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Monday, September 13, 2010

Why I, a Protestant, Now Believe in Purgatory

It may not be fire, but it has been graphically described by several authors who have stumbled onto different versions of it.

Dr. Frank Ritchie and Angie Fenimore began as nonbelievers but ended as devout Christians because of what they saw in Otherworld. Robert A. Monroe and Rosalind McKnight practiced decades of out of body experiments with no particular religious orientation. They did not encounter God or Jesus Christ, but they did describe many a miserable, lost, and benighted spirit. Monroe was occasionally accosted by spooky, sexual entities who tried to seduce him into an erotic encounter. Monroe describes the fate of two of his close intellectual friends and that of his father, none of whom were in a peaceful heavenly situation. One of them came up to greet him through a hole in the floor of some Otherworld room. He appeared as a gaseous cloud. As he began to address Monroe, guiding hands interrupted the interview and led Monroe away. Monroe's description of angry, desperate, addicted earthbound spirits precisely matches that of Dr. Ritchie. Whitley Strieber describes the death of a good friend who, despite spiritualistic songs and ceremonies, seemed to have slipped into hell before Whitley's eyes. Authors who write about near death experiences have related tales of trapped souls. The show Paranormal State dealt with earthbound spirits who were certainly not in heaven or 'in the light' and were often still malicious troublemakers. Numerous Christian authors have described missing hell by a hair before their conversion. Others have visited heaven for a brief time but, while they were over there, they saw many others going elsewhere. Even the books promoting reincarnation for everyone admit that some human souls get stuck. For years, I hoped that the declaration of Jesus about the way to heaven being narrow was wrong, but after months of my recent research, I accept it to be a heart wrenching fact.

I have read two of Monroe's three books. I began with Journey's Out of the Body and moved on to Far Journeys. I'm not convinced that everything he describes is real. Some of it doesn't ring true. He might be exaggerating or he may be the victim of entity simulations, which can be so real that telling the difference between the simulation and reality is difficult. However, some intriguing points come through consistently. One of them is that the end game is love. Monroe is not talking about sexual love. In Far Journeys he describes a wet, sweaty, writhing mass of humans who had permanently left their physical state, but were trying to regain the sensation of total unrestrained sex in Otherworld. He pulled one man out by the leg and made three attempts to communicate with him. The man seemed not to notice. He could not wait to get back into the writhing ball. But says Monroe, there is no satisfaction in the non-material world because there is no real human body. That pretty much is the Christian message. In the Kingdom of heaven there is no marriage or giving in marriage, and the end game is love. The New Testament Greek word is agape, which indicates God's unconditional love for all mankind. Jesus also described hell as a place where the fire is not quenched and the worm does not die. Take that in a metaphorical sense and the OOBers and NDEers are describing a kind of hell.

The consistent message in all of the books I've read (although not explicitly stated) is that two things seem to open the way to a pleasant eternity. One is to learn to live a life of sacrificial love, putting others first and denying our bonds to evanescent desires. Genuinely repent of damaging things that we've done to our self and others and change our life, letting go of our attachment to addictions, ego, and to the things of this earth. Another is to call on Jesus Christ to forgive our sins, renew our souls, and open the way to the Father. That is the sure way. The books I have been reading often proclaim the Christian message, just in other words. The problem is that they lack the Christ who said the some of the same things first. The Christ Force can't change your life or forgive your sins. Jesus the guru can't lead you to the Father. Jesus stripped of the cross can not be the door to heaven. Jesus of the Bible is the only one that counts. Any entity, alien, or spirit that would deny who He is and what He did will lead you to hell.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Modern Christian Sophistry

A sophistry is something that looks good, feels good, and sounds really good that it becomes an absolute truth for long periods of time, deeply impacting culture, before people realize that it's just wrong and they have to let the idea go. A sophistry stops all progress until it is exposed. One example in our own history in the U.S. is that black people are not fully human, so it's OK to buy and sell them on the open market. One of the biggest sophistries in the world today is promoted by the global Christian church. It is the evangelical belief that the Bible is inerrant, that there is no error in the Scripture, that all ideas expressed are those of God Himself.

The belief that there can be no human content or cultural bias in the writing of the Bible is just wrong. To continually aver that the Bible is perfect, inerrant, and always reflects God's current view of the world sounds so good, so pious, so holy, so heroic...and is always rewarded with amens and "well said" from all the brethren with whom we want to stay connected and by whom we want to be admired. But if Jesus is the way, the TRUTH, and the life, how can clinging to a pious sophistry further the life of the soul? What it really does is make the church irrelevant in our day and age. It makes God look retroactive and unappealing. It overlooks the dynamic for growth and change that is embedded into the Scriptures that allows the message, like a new wine skin, to change shape over diverse times and cultures. Divesting ourselves of the doctrine of inerrancy does mean that we have to think about our theology a little more. It means that we can't default to former cultures, even those depicted in the Bible, to express God's message to our world. We do not need to treat our wives, daughters, and women like the leaders of the first century church did. We do not have to love our wives as Abraham loved Sarah. We have to gain the mind of Christ, define how His love plays out in our era, and model a love that speaks to our decade.

One of the first things that would change is how the church defines women in leadership and in the home. We would have to reconsider whether a woman needs the 'covering' of a man in order to stay spiritually strong and acceptable to God. Such a doctrine does disservice to the blood and redemption work of Jesus Christ. It is also unnecessarily demeaning to women, as if they are intrinsically defective in some way. Historically, there are too many examples of strong Christian women who supported their families in prayer, putting that female intercessor in the place of "high priest." The fact is, evangelicals are proud of proclaiming the fact that Jesus is our High Priest and none other. Paul proclaimed the man as the head of the woman in an era in which a woman had no rights or public presence. Because of such pronouncements, it wasn't until 1920 that women could vote. The women fighting publicly for the right to vote were beaten, ridiculed, and persecuted. I'm sure many a good preacher vilified them from the pulpit, using Scripture to back their claim that those women are out of proper order.

If we acknowledge that God speaks through His messengers in a voice and at a level of knowledge which is appropriate for the era of the message, we could also reconsider how literally we should read Genesis 1. The difference in tone between Gen. 1 and 2 would be more recognizable, as would the progression of creation events, which vary in the two documents. The name of God changes three times in the early chapters of Genesis. Psalm 104 would be added to the creation epic. All would be recognized for what they are, theological poetry. If we could step back and appreciate the exalted language and the simplification of concepts, the debate between religion and science would be greatly diminished.

I personally do believe that the Bible is perfect. It is a perfect reconstruction of mankind grappling with new revelations and old traditions. Haggai's name, which means "my wrestling," is a good alternate moniker for the entire biblical message. Men and women continually have to wrestle with God and with each other and with the enemy of our souls to properly interpret and re-communicate God's message to the contemporary world.